Recently, The Denver Post published an important article about a portion of the recovery community that never gets much attention. We are talking about officers of the law who have struggled with addiction and what sobriety can mean for those who don the uniform. Yes police should certainly be held to a high standard (they are protecting lives, after all), but they are human just like the rest of us and can easily fall prey to the trappings of drugs and alcohol.
The story came out following the high-profile suspension of Denver Officer Jayson Spitzer, who was found guilty of driving under the influence while on the job. Certainly there needs to be repercussions for that, as DUI’s can easily lead to disastrous accidents and fatalities. But Spitzer admittedly came clean as an alcoholic, entered treatment and served his time.
In a typical field, that wouldn’t lead to banishment from one’s chosen field. So the question becomes, should police be judged differently when they succumb to an addiction? As The Post correctly put it, “law enforcement officers are under a tremendous amount of stress, which can sometimes trigger dependence on drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Shouldn’t society seek to aid those who abuse but ask for help?”
Admittedly, there is no easy answer to this question. But, to their credit, the Denver Police Department is taking proactive steps to prevent addictions within its ranks. Police Chief Robert White has pushed forward a local resiliency program for officers having a hard time coping with the job. Free counseling services are available, as are recovery references which aim to curb habits before they go too far.
The Post has already deemed the program to be a major success. In the first months of 2018, 80 law enforcement employees have taken advantage of its services; with an additional seven proactively choosing to enter treatment.
As for those like Spitzer (whose failed breathalyzer led to his conviction), a 60-day unpaid suspension was handed down; followed by mandatory treatment and random urine tests for the next two years. And for the record, his sentence would have been much harsher had he actually injured anyone while driving. Spitzer was, however, able to keep his job.
If anything, stories like this go to show the utter blindness of addiction. As we’ve previously mentioned in our blogs, it doesn’t matter if you’re a high-powered lawyer or someone facing homelessness on the streets, this is a disease that knows no bounds. And it can just as easily strike those who vow to serve and protect.